The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is a story of its own.
In 1990, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival planted its roots in Utah Valley — more specifically in Orem, Utah — with its first event. Now in its 28th season, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival outgrew its Orem plot and shifted its location north to the other side of I-15 at Thanksgiving Point.
The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival began as a way to raise funds for the Orem Public Library to build a children’s library. TimpFest Co-Founder Karen Ashton was a storyteller at the library, and the library told her and the group of women she worked with that they would need to raise $500,000 to help build the children’s library.
“Every single woman who helped in the beginning and even now, loved libraries and loved taking their children to the library,” Ashton said. “It was their excitement about having a children’s library that moved them forward in having this little project because we were going to use the storytelling festival as a mechanism for telling people about the need for the library and for raising funds.”
By the time the group had reached its goal and the children’s library was constructed, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival had grown to the second largest storytelling festival in the country with more than 40,000 annual attendees. And Ashton could see the potential of a storytelling festival when she first attended the nationally acclaimed storytelling festivals in preparation for creating her own.
“I thought we could do better because we have such a community of people who are willing to welcome others, invest their time in volunteer ways and I just felt like we could have a great festival,” she said. “And that has proven true.”
Audiences from 35 states and multiple countries make the trek to Utah each September.
“Our audience is not aging,” Ashton says. “If anything they’re family-oriented and they are developing. They are growing up with storytelling and understanding that art form and having a passion for it. Because truly, there is nothing like being told a magnificent story and you are in the theater of the mind. It’s really an amazing opportunity.”
In fact, the Utah Valley-based storytelling festival is even a favorite amongst national storytellers. TimpFest Co-Founder Karen Acerson says not only does the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival committee seek out the best talent, but the national storytellers seek out the festival.
“When you come, you’ll be surrounded by the music that we have at the festival and the beauty of the gardens. Then we’ll take you someplace you never expected and bring you back safely.” — Karen Ashton, Timpanogos Storytelling Festival co-founder
“They will actually bring their families to our festival — and they don’t do that to the other festivals because they said we have such a great ambiance and atmosphere here that is family oriented,” Acerson said.
Each year, members of the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival committee attend other national storytelling festivals to search for “good, quality family stories and really the best audience appeal,” according to Acerson. Timpanogos Storytelling Institute Executive Director Eliot Wilcox says they find storytellers who have performed at the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Cambridge, Smithonian, Kennedy Center and other prestigious locations.
“Sometimes they are telling original, ethnic stories or traditional stories from that,” Wilcox said. “Other times they are personal tales. We’re always trying to get a nice mixture of all of those things together.”
This year’s show features ghost stories, folklore, the ever-popular “Laughin’ Night” and more.
Besides the new location, the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival also moved from the first weekend of the month to the second weekend so that there won’t be as many Utah Valley residents out of town.
“Every year it will be the weekend after Labor Day so hopefully more people can come,” Acerson said. “Then people can get their things out of the way and the next weekend they can just come and enjoy stories.”
And Ashton has a promise for attendees: “When you come, you’ll be surrounded by the music that we have at the festival and the beauty of the gardens. Then we’ll take you someplace you never expected and bring you back safely.”
The Timpanogos Storytelling Festival is from Sept. 7–9 at the Ashton Gardens at Thanksgiving Point. Tickets vary in cost: day passes are $20–$30 while evening only passes are $10–$12. See a full list of ticket prices here. Learn more about the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival at timpfest.org.